Le Menoux Eglise, close to Argenton-Sur-Creuse
After a day of renovations, I dragged an unwilling hubby to a church I’d been to before but wanted to visit again in order to write about it. He first suggested that he remained in the car while I went in but I promised he would find it interesting so he grudgingly joined me in the drizzle to have a look.
The church and town look like many in the region, old and quiet, so when you walk in, the wild colours of the frescos are the last thing you expect. Painted in vivid primary colours, the deep blues, yellows and reds hit you like a brick. It quite overwhelming and you find yourself looking at each other in slight bemusement, we are in a Catholic church aren’t we, you smile, in which case, what is going on?
What is going on?
It’s all the work of Jorge Carrasco, a Bolivian artist who landed in tiny town of Le Menoux, in the Indre, with his wife Simone and their six children in 1968. Carrasco, a well-recognised artist, offered to paint frescos in the church which, at the time were bare walled. He received permission to paint them and started work in 1968 completing in 1976.
They’re pretty amazing, simply walking into the church and looking at them it’s quite hard to gain coherence of them as they are quite abstract so it’s difficult to know immediately what the narrative is. However, there is, helpfully, a small explanation of what Carrasco was conveying through his paintings. It’s a much more spiritual narrative than one would normally find in a Catholic church, rather than images that focus on the life of Jesus, Carrasco’s paintings convey philosophical themes on the meaning of life and God within that.
To follow the narrative it helps if you start at the altar end of the church, here the frescos are about the origins of life, I bought the book, so the visions are of the emergence of life from the cosmos. The saturation of the colour is really mesmerising, I was really taken by the right hand wall, it shows two comets, one blue, one red which merge with a kaleidoscope flume, but it’s what’s behind that’s intriguing as myriad faces emerge and yet combine with the gloom, very arresting as it comes into view.
As you move back towards the door, the next scene, in mostly reds, oranges and greens seems to be about hell and damnation, man falling at the feet of god’s power. It’s quite powerful and in sharp contrast in tone to the brighter more joyous colours further down the aisle. In the next two scenes the luminosity of bright colour returns and seems to be much more a celebration of life. In particular the side walls are brimming with positivity to the point that there’s a sense of music and the vitality of life in them.
It helps to understand Carrasco’s interpretation more when seeing the whole of his decoration from the altar, I get the sense of creation, god’s power, the birth of man and finally the joy of life and eventual death.
I think this is a great opportunity for a glimpse into the working life of a major artist and what can be achieved if an artist is given the trust to achieve his vision. I did, however, also wonder what the reception of such a different interpretation of the church’s message had been in the town at the time. Certainly the Mayor seems to have been pleased as Carrasco was awarded a gold medal from the town for his work and at least one street in Le Menoux is named after him, but I do wonder how some of the more conservative Catholics may have found it.
When we left the church we followed the signs to Carrasco’s studio. This was a greater insight of the artist, here we found the studio and the remainder of his collection, including his works in sculpture. These alone are a revelation, beautifully rendered in marble and precious stones they are tactile, voluptuous and sensual. We clambered up to the attic to see a multitude of paintings which reveal his various styles and, presumably, influences. The face motif recurs in many paintings, as does his interest in the futility of war.
It was a real pleasure to be allowed to walk around the artist’s studio, particularly to see his paints and brushes, that felt so personal. The museum sells some literature on Carrasco, there is a book about the frescos, in French, which, with the aid of Google translate, really helped to understand his vision. Oh, and the uninterested bystander? He loved it!
Rita Fennell – Gallery Tart
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This is so different and interesting! Like you said Rita, you would hardly expect to see this kind of frescoes in a catholic church…another kind of vision altogether.
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I know, I found it so shocking that a Catholic Church could be open to such a different interpretation of its religious philosophy. His atelier is amazing too, the sculptures are so great.